Did Rage Against the Machine burn themselves out with bygone Presidents, not realising what was to come? You’d think November 2020, with their reunion world tour shredded by Covid, might have tempted them to speak out as a band. Instead, their musical offering amounted to a 1999 live album being released onto Spotify. Raging it wasn’t.
That’s not to say its members haven’t been busy. Guitarist Tom Morello released an EP and a coffee table book of him and his guitars. Alongside Tom, drummer Brad Wilk and bassist Tim Commerford formed supergroup Prophets of Rage with members of Cypress Hill and Public Enemy to protest against the 2016 US elections. They disbanded in 2019. As rock music gave way to hip hop in the charts, frontman Zack de la Rocha joined forces with Run the Jewels – 2020’s natural heir to Rage – on their track “JU$T,” raging against a different head on the modern Hydra: “Look at all these slave masters posin’ on your dollar.”
Sure, there has been protest music released: Eminem, Deathcab for Cutie, Public Enemy, YG & Nipsey Hussle. Yet, there’s no one quite like Rage Against the Machine, no one quite as in-your-face, no one quite as unpredictable. A nuisance to those in power: half-band, half-movement. The reality of their “shutting down” of the New York Stock Exchange to film a video clip may not quite live up to the myth, but are there any bands pulling stunts like that now? In 2008, they headlined summer festivals dressed like prisoners to protest the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Banksy aside, is anyone making such public high-profile statements anymore? Is anyone even able to in a world of social distancing and Zoom livestreams?
Rage picked up where my high school history teacher left off, their lyrics highlighting both the specific and the universal struggle. Now, we read about whoever shouts the loudest, listen to whoever pays to get their hashtag trending. Myanmar, Lebanon, the Chagos Islanders – who is raging for the oppressed today? A #solidarity hashtag won’t change a thing. Tweets with graphs have replaced riffs. Ironic memes are the new anger. In 2020, we ridicule, rather than rage, against the machine.
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